Ultimate How-to Guide For Companion Planting in the Garden

It’s now a well-known fact that certain plants grow better when planted near to each other as they improve each other’s well-being and protect each other from attack by insect pests. Now this is the kind of gardening I like, letting Nature lead the way and do the work!

What is companion planting in the garden? It’s now a well-known fact that certain plants grow better when planted near each other. The saying “Better Together” applies to specific combinations of plants planted close to each other. We can even refer to them as “plant buddies.” These “companion plants” improve each other’s well-being and protect each other from attacks by insects and other pests. Now this is the kind of gardening I like. Letting Nature lead the way and do the work!

Companion planting is especially useful when applied to your vegetable garden. You will give your vulnerable vegetable seedlings the best start by planting them along with their companion plants. Another benefit of companion planting is that a small area of soil will ensure the maximum production of healthy plants and vegetables. Furthermore, certain plants even help to improve the soil structure and quality and reduce pest attacks.

HELPFUL COMPANION TOMATOES

Tomatoes, for example, secrete an alkaloid substance which repels nematodes (eelworms) in the soil. These worms cause root-knot and plant death. Some plants are heavy soil feeders. They need and therefore take up much of the soil’s nutrients and minerals. On the other hand, some plants are light feeders, and others even give food back to the soil. So growing a variety of companion vegetables and flowering plants together causes them to assist each other and to thrive symbiotically.

COMPANION PLANTING IS ‘POLYCULTURE’

Growing several crops together provides a symbiotic and biodiverse community of plants called ‘Polyculture’. The traditional farming practice of only growing one crop is called ‘Monoculture’. Farmers designed monoculture to suit mass growing and harvesting techniques. Unfortunately, this method invites pests in for mass attack! Moreover, monoculture also depletes the soil.

Companion planting is best for home gardeners

There is a big difference between growing for-profit and growing for self-sufficiency. Companion planting is definitely the best method for home gardeners. Why exactly is companion planting a good idea for vegetable gardening at home? The answer is simple. It most closely emulates the natural balance of nature left to its own devices.

Benefits of planting in groups

So a tip would be rather to plant your veggies and companion plants in loose groups instead of planting them in rows. There are several benefits linked to this planting method. We will elaborate on some of them. Firstly, the shade of taller plants helps protect vulnerable seedlings against the harsh sun. Secondly, plants which attract certain pests protect others from those pests. An example of this is where a few cabbages are planted in between a group of pumpkin plants. The cabbage attracts Aphids, which would have attacked the pumpkins if the cabbage was not there. So cool when mother nature is on your side, isn’t it?

Another small example of this system I can demonstrate from my own veggie garden experience. We have wild Gooseberries that popped up amongst my lettuces and spinach, which are extremely prone to caterpillars. Now that my gooseberries are ripe, the red-wing starlings and olive thrush birds are regulars coming to have a Gooseberry or two. But they are also keeping the caterpillars at bay, and my Spinach plants are much happier since the gooseberries have been nearby. I’m happy to forfeit a few gooseberries a day as they self-seed so readily, giving me a good supply, and the protection they offer is a great payoff!

Jungle-style planting

Plants naturally grow in crowded conditions, so emulate this too in your vegetable patch. Jane Griffiths calls this a ‘Jungle Style’ of companion planting. Jane, the author of the book, Janes Delicious Garden, is a vegetable gardening guru in South Africa. She uses natural and organic principles for growing healthy vegetables and plants.

Companion Planting List for vegetables

Here is a list from Soil For Life of common vegetables and their associated companion plants that help them thrive, as well as those plants that they prefer not to be close to. Funny how plants are so like people!

Asparagus

  • Best companion plant/s: Tomato, as well as Basil
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Bush Beans

  • Best companion plant/s: They do well with most vegetable plants. However, they prefer Beetroot, Carrot, Celery, Mealies, Leeks, Potatoes, Strawberries, Radish, Cauliflower, Cucumber, Lettuce, Marigolds and Petunias
  • Worst companion plant: Onions, Garlic, Chives and Fennel. Now, would you believe that Bush Beans actually have something in common with ghosts? They are not very fond of Garlic!

Climbing Beans

  • Best companion plant/s: Mealies, as well as Carrots
  • Worst companion plant/s: Sunflower, Onions and the Cabbage family

Beetroot

  • Best companion plant/s: Bush Beans, as well as Onions, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Cruciferous veg and Chives
  • Worst companion plant/s: Climbing beans

Carrots

  • Best companion plant/s: Bush Beans, as well as Lettuce, Leeks, Onions, Peas, Radish, Tomato, Climbing Beans, Parsley, Dill and Sage
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Celery

  • Best companion plant/s: Bush Beans, as well as the Cabbage family, especially Cauliflower. Furthermore, Celery also thrives when planted with Leek and Tomato plants
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Cucumber

  • Best companion plant/s: Bush Beans, as well as the Cabbage family. Moreover, Cucumber loves the companionship of Celery, Mealies, Lettuce, Radish, Sunflower and Nasturtiums. Now can you believe it? Cucumber plants are almost like women! They like flowers.
  • Worst companion plant/s: Potato

Eggplant (Brinjal)

  • Best companion plant/s: Bush Beans, as well as, Peas, Potato and Nasturtiums
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Leeks

  • Best companion plant/s: Beetroot, Bush Beans, Carrots, Celery and Onions
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Lettuce

  • Best companion plant/s: Carrots, as well as Radish, Onion, Spinach, Chervil and Strawberry
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Mealies

  • Best companion plant/s: All Bean varieties, Beetroot, Cucurbits (Cucumber and Squash) and Potatoes
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Onions

  • Best companion plant/s: Beetroot, as well as the Cabbage family, Carrots, Lettuce and Leeks
  • Worst companion plant/s: Peas and Beans

Parsley

  • Best companion plant/s: Basil, as well as Chives and Asparagus. Parsley loves to grow in the shade of Tomatoes
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Peas

  • Best companion plant/s: Carrots, as well as Radishes, Spinach and Turnips
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Potato

  • Best companion plant/s: Bush Beans, as well as the Cabbage family, Mealies, Peas and Marigolds
  • Worst companion plant/s: Sunflowers, Tomatoes, Rosemary, Cucumber, Pumpkin and Squash

Radish

  • Best companion plant/s: Quick growing and happy to be interplanted with most vegetables and beans!
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Soya beans

  • Best companion plant/s: Mealies, as well as most other vegetables
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Squash and Pumpkin family

  • Best companion plant/s: Mealies, as well as Radishes
  • Worst companion plant/s: Potato

Strawberries

  • Best companion plant/s: Bush Beans, as well as Onions, Peas, Spinach, Lettuce, Marigolds and Borage. Apart from being a good companion for Strawberries, Borage will attract bees. Urban Beekeeping is becoming quite popular nowadays for those who do not know. Lucky for you, Contours Landscapes have written a very informative blog on it.
  • Worst companion plant/s: Cabbage family (Brassicas)

Sunflowers

  • Best companion plant/s: Cucurbits, as well as Sweetcorn
  • Worst companion plant/s: Climbing Beans, Potatoes

Tomatoes

  • Best companion plant/s: The Cabbage family, as well as Asparagus, Basil, Celery and Onion
  • Worst companion plant/s: Apricot trees, Potatoes, Fennel and Strawberries

Turnips

  • Best companion plant/s: Peas
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Zucchini (Baby marrows)

  • Best companion plant/s: Nasturtiums
  • Worst companion plant/s: None

Companion planting and natural gardening guidelines:

According to Jane, these companion planting tips will help to encourage healthy, symbiotic benefits for your plants:

  • Mix fast and slow-growing, early and late harvest crops in your beds.
  • Furthermore, mix heavy and light-feeding vegetables.
  • Also, mix long-rooted plants with shallow-rooted plants.
  • Use sun-loving, tall or leafy plants as umbrella plants to shade those needing less sun.
  • Sow several varieties of each vegetable. This provides an assortment when you harvest, helps confuse pests and aids the soil.
  • Harvest whole plants as soon as they begin to crowd others too much. Don’t wait until they mature. Rather add them to salads and stir-fries and have fewer, healthier plants.
  • Be ruthless with the plants you don’t want – pull them out when they are young.
  • Sow fast-growing, shallow-rooted plants like mustard, Asian Greens, radishes and buckwheat to crowd out weeds you don’t want.
  • When you plant bought seedlings, don’t plant them all at once. Rather do succession planting to overlap harvesting time.
  • Plant as much variety as possible.
  • Share seedlings with fellow gardeners. We often have too many of the same plants for our needs.
  • Continually feed your soil with compost! The best practice is to make your own compost at home.
Make your own compost to ensure its ability to saturate the soil youll use when companion gardening

Sources:

  • Jane Griffiths, Jane’s Delicious Garden
  • Pat Featherstone, Grow to Live, Soil for Life

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Let’s plan your landscaping project together!

We plan, install and maintain award-winning landscapes for our commercial clients and project partners. Clients who wish to add function, value and inspiration to their outdoor spaces and properties.

Our roots are in Cape Town, but our footprint stretches deep into southern Africa.